Toxic plants

Is Holly Toxic To Cats?

by Clair Chesterman
Is Holly Toxic To Cats? 

Holly is an evergreen shrub that is poisonous to cats. Saponin glycosides, methylxanthines, and cyanogens are all poisonous components found in holly. The holly plant’s young leaves and green berries have the highest concentration of saponin glycosides. Saponins can kill red blood cells and alter the permeability of the mucosal cells of the small intestine of cats.

Excessive head shaking, drooling, and lip-smacking are indicators that a cat has eaten a part of the holly plant. Although there is no evidence that holly poisoning is lethal to cats, the damage to the gastrointestinal system poses a serious threat to the feline’s health.

What Is Holly?

Cat near American Holly

Holly, scientifically known as Ilex opaca and belonging to the Aquifoliaceae family, is a genus of over 500 flowering shrubs, trees, and climbers with prickly leaves and brilliant red berries. English Holly, European Holly, Oregon Holly, Inkberry, Winterberry, and American Holly are some of its other names. It gets its name from the glossy green foliage and vivid red berries that are utilized in Christmas wreaths, garlands, and displays. This popular decor plant is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia.

Hollies feature simple, alternating leaves with wavy margins capped with spines on several species. Plants can be deciduous or evergreen. The male and female flowers are normally borne on separate plants, and the single or clustered, usually greenish tiny blooms are unisexual and have four petals. 

Clinical Signs of Holly Poisoning in Cats

American Holly and cats

The most prevalent signs and symptoms of holly poisoning are gastrointestinal disturbances. If poisoning symptoms appear in your cat, seek immediate veterinary assistance. Symptoms will vary depending on how much holly the cat has consumed, but they may include:

First Aid and Treatment of Holly Poisoning in Cats

American Holly with a cat trying to sniff it

Holly poisoning has no specific antidote thus, treatment is focused on controlling symptoms and limiting additional absorption of toxins.

If the consumption was recent, the vet may induce vomiting to clear any leftover plant matter from the cat’s gastrointestinal tract. He may also use activated charcoal to bind any residual plant matter in your cat’s stomach.

Another option of your vet is gastric decontamination which is a therapy used to empty the toxin from the cat’s gastrointestinal tract to decrease its absorption. Fluids are also essential to prevent or treat dehydration of your cat. Other medicines to ease your cat’s symptoms may be also prescribed by the vet as part of supportive and symptomatic therapy.

Recovery from Holly Poisoning in Cats

In cats, holly poisoning usually leads to a full recovery within 24 hours. If your cat isn’t treated by a veterinarian, he or she will take much longer to recover. Holly has a low toxicity level, and in the vast majority of cases, all cats recover entirely. Large amounts of the American Holly plant consumed by very young or very old cats may have a negative outcome.

Prevention of Holly Poisoning in Cats

Be mindful when bringing in any Christmas decorations in your house. Always check if your ornaments and decors contain holly berries or any toxic plants. Restrict your cat from going outdoors as he or she may be exposed to hollies in the neighborhood.

If you love plants but have cats at home, check out these lists:

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